Hang On, Mister!
The nightmare was entered into. On the part of Clay Shaw, what was it like? "I could feel the ferment building around me." Kaleidoscopic memories of detectives and flashbulbs, of handcuffs clamped on, of being led through mobs of shouting reporters, buttressed by his equally stunned attorneys, taken to Central Lockup, mugged, fingerprinted, told a search warrant had been issued for his house and he might as well give them the keys, they'd only break in if he didn't, and finally, by about nine-thirty in the evening, released on $10,000 bail.
There is still disbelief in Clay Shaw's eyes as he says, "I drove with Eddie Wegmann, neither of us knew what to say, until we parked near his office. There was a bar, we went in and I had two tremendous bourbons," Clay Shaw adds, nodding his head, and a flicker of an appreciative smile crosses his face. "You know, I had my first small bit of encouragement then. The barmaid told us she'd heard it on television, said she'd known me for years, knew I never could have been involved in anything like that and absolutely refused to take payment for the drinks."
Shaw and Edward Wegmann repaired to the latter's office, where they talked for a while in tones of pure incredulity, phoned a few close friends from whom they learned the astonishing news that Shaw's house was a fortress besieged by policemen lugging off cartons of his belongings with a battery of newsmen and cameras set up to record the indignity of the proceedings.
It was difficult for Shaw to accept this. He did not go home that night, nor did he enter his house for the following six weeks. He went to stay instead at the home of an old friend, a woman he'd been associated with in business and socially, who insisted he accept her hospitality at this time. At this point in our interview we broke off and went to pick up this very same lady for lunch. Although there's no doubt that the District Attorney's office knew of his whereabouts every second, he asked me not to use her name, for fear of harassment, and I will respect his wishes.
What's it like to step out in public with Clay Shaw, who twenty months later is still out on $10,000 bail, still accused of this heinous crime? It's about like standing at Hollywood and Vine with Paul Newman. It does not cover one in a cloak of anonymity. A teeny-bopper in faded blue denim jeans and work shirt topped by a contradictory floppy yellow wide-brimmed hat of the thirties gyrated gently in a sunny noonday frug on the porch of an old unrestored cottage across the street. "A nest of hippies," Clay Shaw whispered to me. Still frugging, she waved and called out a happy "Hiya, Mr. Shaw!" The walk covered five or six blocks; no one failed to react; people either looked, waved a hand, or shot a friend;y "Hi, there, Mr. Shaw, how are you?" to which he invariably replied with a brief, smiling "Fine, what have I got to be worried about?"
Clay Shaw's friend, a charming widow, when questioned about the time he spent at her house, laughs and waves a fanless hand in front of her face. "Yes," she says, "dear Clay 'shacked up' -- I guess that's what they call it nowadays -- with me, but then I'm an aging matron type, so I suppose that's all right." (Aging matron type is an attractive blonde with striking, thin rich-lady legs.) Over lunch there was talk of his arrest, his life, and later on I had a private chat with her.
"Here I was," she says, perched in her comfortably furnished living room, "sitting right here watching Huntley-Brinkley and -- my God, there's Clay in handcuffs and they're announcing that Jim Garrison's arrested him for conspiracy to assassinate the President. To assassinate the President!" she repeats, still unable to comprehend it. "I was stunned, shocked. This man has never done an unkind thing to anyone in his life. Well, of course, all of Clay's friends, and he has many, were on the phone and we were all trying to find out what the almighty devil was going on. It was a madhouse. Later on that evening, when he was out on bail, I told his lawyer to bring him right on down here. That poor man, he was in a complete daze." I asked her what he did upon arriving. "He didn't do a thing," she says, slamming a hand to her chest. "I did. I fixed him a Beefeater martini that was the strongest thing you ever saw." She laughs. We call that the thousand-dollar martini. You know, out on $10,000 bail and the bondsman gets ten percent. Then I fixed him some eggs and bacon and out him to bed. The worst day of my life, absolutely the worst.
"Clay was in a state of shock for a week or so, everyone was in New Orleans, nobody could believe it. But Garrison wouldn't let go and then along came the preliminary hearing and, of course, what can you do? Then, after the hearing, Clay hadn't been out in public since his arrest and one night he said, 'All right, I'm taking you out to dinner tonight.' I got all dolled up and we went to the Royal Orleans, and don't you know we're sitting at our table and who comes walking right by?" He voice rises several decibels and once again her hand flies to her chest. "Of all people, the Jolly Green Giant, Garrison himself, and his guru, Mark Lane. Ohhh!" she expels. "But we just sat there staring straight ahead until they'd gone by, then we finished our dinner and left. You know --" she leans in toward me -- "I think Garrison's always been jealous of Clay. People in this town adore Clay, wherever he goes poeple are always swarming all over him, pumping his hand, you can feel the warmth go out to him. I don't know about any conspiracy but I know Clay Shaw didn't have any part of it. Why, he voted for Kennedy, he adored him. Kennedy was a builder, just like Clay was, why would he want to harm him?"
Later that afternoon, a reporter on the Times-Picayune said, "The whole case has taken a turn hinging on the personalities instead of the facts. Look at Garrison and Shaw, both tall, both middle-aged, both handsome imposing figures, both extremely bright and both possessed of charm. The similarity between the two of them is so apparent it would take a blind person not to see it."
William Gurvich, whose defection from the DA's staff has been mentioned, sat in the inside office of his private detective agency. He explained that he could no longer go along with Garrison and his methods. Like Clay Shaw, Gurvich speaks not emotionally, no ranting about Garrison, but he speaks with firm conviction and concern of the office of District Attorney, of the pitiful state of politics in New Orleans, of the fact that Garrison is convinced of a conspiracy, although he should know that Clay Shaw had nothing to do with it, but that he is hanging on to anyone and anything to keep the case open, believing, as many reckless men in history have, that his means, no matter the cost to others, will most certainly be justified by the end. When asked if he would testify for Shaw if and when his case comes to trial, Gurvich said, "Only one thing would keep me from it -- death." [Illness would, in fact, prevent Gurvich from testifying. -- DR] His parting sentence to me was a quiet and, in a way, sad one: "I feel sorry for Jim Garrison, but I believe he's an extremely dangerous man."
If this is a viable opinion, and it seems to be among many good citizens of New Orleans, why hasn't there been more of an outcry? Maybe they take their lead from the Governor of the State of Louisiana, John McKeithen, who, when asked if he had any criticism of Garrison and his probe, stated publicly to the press that he did not but added, just as publicly, "And even if I did I wouldn't voice it. I have learned that most of Garrison's enemies are buried -- politically speaking -- and I don't want to join the list of the deceased."
(Interesting note: Although major newspapers all over the United States have featured editorials highly critical of the methods of Jim Garrison, neither one of the New Orleans papers, the States-Item and the Times-Picayune, has so much as uttered an editorial peep.)
So here is Clay Shaw, twenty months,a battery of lawyers, and many thousands of retirement dollars later, still in the talons of the persistent District Attorney with the nasty shadow of conspiracy to murder the President hanging over him. One has to ask, even if these charges eventually dwindle and die, if the accused will ever be completely free of the original smear.
The press, for instance, has frequently hinted at a duality in Clay Shaw's personal life and when his house was searched and his personal possessions were seized not so much was made of "One typewriter and case" or "One calorie counter" or "Three manuscripts" but there was a flurry of chop-licking over "One chain . . . One black hood and cape . . . Two pieces of leather . . . Three pieces of rope . . ." etc. It is also fascinating to note that while the dossier contained "Four paperback books and twelve hardcover books" it listed separately "One book titled A Holiday for Murder."
I interviewed a long-time friend of Clay Shaw's, Mrs. Lawrence Fischer, who designs many of the floats and costumes for Mardi Gras, or as she puts it, "New Orleans Annual Climactic of Civil Lunacy!" and a snappier woman I've never talked to. A day or so after Shaw's arrest her doorbell rang and an investigator for the DA identified himself. "Oh," she said, curled up in her armchair and re-enacting the scene with relish, "you come right on in, you're exactly the man I want to talk to." She winked at me. "I think I took him by surprise. Anyhow, this joker wants to spread a mulch of sinister deeds over Clay. Wanted to know how long I'd known him. Since he was seventeen. Wanted to know if we'd ever discussed sex." Mrs. Fischer slapped her leg. "Well, it would be pretty unusual to go for over thirty-five years with a good friend and never bring the subject up, now, wouldn't it? Of course we had. Then this young man asked, 'Has Mr. Shaw ever told you the intimate details of his sex life?' 'No,' I shot back at him, 'and furthermore I haven't told him the intimate details of my sex life either. Are you here to discuss his political leanings with reference to the Garrison farce, or are you conducting a sort of Kinsey report?' Then he wanted to get into the black robe and the hood and the black hat and finally I just couldn't take it any longer and I said, 'Listen, my good young man, I don't know whether you've ever heard of it, but we have something here in New Orleans called Mardi Gras! Everybody in town gets dressed up in costumes. My God, you could raid any apartment or house in New Orleans and come up with some pretty far-out ensembles -- I can assure you. While you were at it, why didn't you take his Chinese costume or the Western one or the Dutch one?'" Mrs. Fischer chuckled with pleasure. "I think that investigator was damned glad to get out of here." She raised a hand to her forehead and sighed. "Good Lord, since this case began, New Orleans -- never what you'd call a sane place anyhow, I mean think of Huey Long and all that -- has turned into one vast walking lunatic asylum."
Later that afternoon, I spoke with a former business associate of Clay Shaw's. "Clay was so completely stunned and mystified by the charges leveled against him that we were all worried, especially when it dragged on and on, whether he could withstand the strain. After months of trial of preliminary motions by his lawyers, all of them turned down, change of venue, turned down, it was one remark that let us know he was going to come through all right. At a dinner party we were discussing the morass of legal procedure, the endless entanglements of the law, and Clay finally shook his head and said, 'Can you see me for the rest of my life running around with stacks of documents and sheafs of papers tucked under my arm, knocking on every judge's chamber in the land, crying out, "I didn't kill Cock Robin, I didn't!"'"
Further sessions with Clay Shaw gave sound indications of his rationale and the philosophy which has enabled him to keep his balance and remain on course.
On the theory of conspiracy: "I'm no authority to judge and it's difficult to sift through all that's been written about the Warren Commission, the CIA, the FBI, the Attorney General, the Right and the Left, the Cuban situation and so forth. I only know I had no part in any plot. But I do feel many people believe in a conspiracy, because when death comes to the figure of a prince, as it did to Kennedy, struck down in his prime, it should come under a panoply of great tragedy with all the resulting high court intrigue -- almost something out of Shakespeare -- not from some poor little psychotic loser crouched with a mail-order rifle behind a stack of cardboard boxes in a warehouse."
On the question of what has sustained him most during this troublesome year and a third, Clay Shaw leans back in his chair, rests his head against the high back for a long time before sighing and leaning forward, hands clasped in front of him. "It's difficult to isolate any one factor in your psychic makeup. To be perfectly pragmatic, I suppose the knowledge of my innocence has been the great sustaining factor and against that, I believe, nothing in the long run can fail me. I have found religion helpful. Although I'm not a member of any church formally, I think of myself as a religious person. I've found several works supportive, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander, a book of meditations by Thomas Merton and" -- he picks up a volume from the coffee table -- "this, of course, the Bible." He puts the book down and adds with a smile, "I might say that I've particularly been reading the Book of Job."
At this point I mention that I would have thought Kafka might have come to mind and he reacts with a hearty burst of laughter and smacks his hands together. "Oh, yes, by all means. Yes, I've often had the feeling that I might just be living in a Kafka novel. Ironically enough, I was always the one who thought that Kafka rather overstated things: Now, come on, all right, so K. can't communicate with the Castle and man and God are incommensurate, but do you have to go on at such tiresome lengths? Boy, have I changed, what a fellow feeling I have for K. now!
"Then, too, this entire experience has rather convinced me of the validity of Christian existentialism as far as philosophy is concerned. In other words, whatever plans you make, you must be prepared, in one moment, that they can be demolished. Of course, man being what he is, he must make some plans for the future." He hoists a warning hand in the air. "Bear in mind, however, that they might all collapse! Another book I've found interesting, Religion and Personality. There's a marvelous line in it: 'Life is not a puzzle to be solved, it's a mystery to be lived minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.' Oh, and a fine piece of advice given me by a Jesuit friend of mine, a quote from Ignatius Loyola: 'Work as though everything depends upon you and pray as though everything depends upon God.' You see, many people say, 'Oh, well, let us do God's will,' and then they relax. It's not quite that simple, it's a matter of finding what God's will is -- not easy, granted -- and to find it moment to moment and live accordingly."
How does this apply to his daily life? A large smile from Clay Shaw, a long drag on his cigarette followed by a deep cough. "I must give this habit up." he says, holding the offending weed in front of him, "but at this point in my life circumstances are not all that conducive to it." He sighs and then continues. "Well, I'll tell you, soon after this bombshell was dropped on me I had a long talk with myself, told myself I was going to attempt to lead my life, as far as possible, as I did before. This is not one hundred percent possible, but within the limitations placed upon me I decided I was going to do the best I could. I've pretty well carried this out. I have to admit that there has never been a twenty-four-hour period when this current situation hasn't occupied some of my mental concentration. Because of this, writing is not as easy as it was before. Incidentally, I'm keeping a journal" -- he chuckles and adds a wink -- "in the hopes that one day it might help keep me. I find that when I wake up in the morning, I'm at my lowest -- heavy, heavy still hangs over my head -- but then as I begin to distract myself with the activities of the day I work out of it. I then try to enjoy each and every minute to the fullest, whatever it is, a book I'm reading, the birds in the patio out there, a sunset, an enjoyable meal, the companionship of friends, a game of bridge. Perhaps, with the Sword of Damocles hanging over me, I'm even made more aware of the simpler pleasures of life."
What about the future? "Hard to say," Shaw says, shaking his formidable head. "There's no way of knowing how long this will drag on. My most cherished dream would be to continue what I originally planned, my writing, to combine it with travel. Of course, I might not have any money left to do that, I might have to -- as they say -- open up the shop again." A rueful smile. "Justice may or may not be blind, but she's the most expensive gal I've ever walked around with! But I'll go on writing, I'll work it out. I'm working now on a play which deals with the age-old problem of the human race. Namely, if we're going to be a society at all, we have to give power to administer things to somebody. But we've never worked out any satisfactory solution as to what happens when this power is abused, when it hardens into a privileged cast of nobles. The dynastic principle doesn't work, because a good king is followed by a weak king. Democracy has tried to put institutions in the place of the dynasty, but then the institutions must be headed by individuals, either elected oe appointed. So we still have the problem of what to do when somebody in high office totally abuses this power, or even becomes mad. Witness Hitler, Mussolini, Joe McCarthy. This is implicit in the theme of the play. If my reach is equal to my grasp, if I have the technical ability to do it as I see it, I think it will be a good play."
Obviously, I ask, the germ of this idea came from his recent experiences with a certain someone in power. He grins. "Let's just say this has been a watershed in my life; anything I write hereafter will have to be influenced directly or indirectly by it."
What about friends, have any of them dropped out of sight during this period? "Not friends. Perhaps a few acquaintances have shied away, but not friends, they've been closer than ever. You know --" he smiles -- "immediately after my arrest, there was something almost every night on the evening news, It was extremely painful to have to sit and hear of the charges against me, but one had to keep in touch with all the developments, it was something that couldn't be ignored. I was speaking about this unpleasant task to a friend, who immediately volunteered to come over every evening when I turned the set on -- and wince for me!"
Has he made any new friends as a result of his trouble? Clay Shaw's face lights up now. "About ten days after my arrest I called a cab to take me to my lawyer's house, almost a daily pilgrimage. The cab arrives, I get in, the driver flips the flag and off we go. He could really have been sent by Central Castin -- dark, stocky, Italian. I see him looking back at me in the mirror and finally he says, 'Haven't I driven you before?' 'No, I don't think so.' He kept an eye on me. 'You look so familiar, I could swear I know you.' I finally thought, What the heck, and I said, 'Well, you probably recognize me from the papers, I'm Clay Shaw.' 'Oh, Mr. Shaw, of course,' and he flips the flag off. 'No charge for you, everybody knows it's a bum rap.' I insisted on paying when we arrived at my lawyer's but he wouldn't hear of it, wanted to know how I was going to get home. I told him I'd call a cab. 'No,' he said, pointing to the opposite curb, 'you take your time, I'll be parked right over there.' I told him I couldn't impose upon his time, I wasn't even sure when I'd be leaving, it might be an hour or so. 'Are you kidding'? I got the whole Daily Racing Form to figure out.' Sure enough, when I came out, there he was. Again he refused to flip the flag. Now I really had to protest, but he wouldn't give in. 'No charge, Mr. Shaw. Listen, your lawyers are gonna cost you enough. Now, you know, Mr. Shaw, it's going to be tough for you to get around, everyone knows you. I want you to use my services. I'm either in my cab or at home and my wife knows how to reach me all the time. I want you to take my number and call me anytime. I don't give a damn, three in the morning and you want a carton of cigarettes, a bottle of booze, a magazine -- you call me.'"
Clay Shaw shrugs. "That's the way it's been for almost a year and a half. He's never charged me. Oh, I've given presents, to him, to his wife and kids, sent them to my doctor, no bills, things like that. I go out there for Sunday dinner, they're part of my family. You can't realize what this has meant to me. Here's a man who saw injustice being done and had nothing to offer against it but himself and his cab. It reminds me of the tale of the Juggler of Notre Dame. He had no money to offer, only his talent, but that he gave freely. He juggled in front of the statue of Our Lady and surely enough -- the statue smiled." And Clay Shaw does more than smile when he speaks of his cab-driver friend -- he beams.
This cab-driver friend, whom Clay Shaw requests I refrain from naming -- "After all, he's in business here, he could be caused trouble" -- I'll call "Tony." It was Tony who drove me on the next to last day of my visit to the Criminal Court Building which houses the District Attorney's office. I had been warned, by almost everyone with whom I'd spoken, to make it easy for myself and stay away from Garrison. I might be subpoenaed, harassed, and a few other things. I was also warned that he can charm the birds when he wants to. But curiosity had me by the throat and I wanted to get a close look at this controversial man. A newspaper reporter asked me what I had in mind to say to him. "I'm just going to say I think Clay Shaw is completely innocent and see what he says."
"You're going to -- Jesus --" He shook his head and walked away from me.
Lest the reader's hopes rise, I didn't see Jim Garrison. I walked into his most impressive office and found the switchboard operator and several secretaries at the tail end of a kaffeeklatsch. When they'd scattered, I straightened my tie and approached the least formidable-looking one. "I'd like to see the District Attorney," I said, unable to come up with anything more original and sounding like an actor in a 1940s B picture. She asked what my business was; I told her I was writing an article and wondered if I could just speak with him for a few minutes. She asked me what publication I represented.
"Esquire," I said.
"Esquire!" the secretary trilled. "Esquire!" Oh, honey, it's a good thing the District Attorney's in California. Don't you know Esquire named him Bigmouth of the Year last year?"
"No," I replied. (And I hadn't recalled that fact.)
"Well, if you really want to see him, leave your name and number and I'm sure he'll be in touch with you when he gets back next week."
"I'm going to New York tomorrow."
"That's good," she said, pointing toward the door. "Have a nice trip."
It was Tony who drove Clay Shaw and me for a last lunch at Antoine's in New Orleans. Megatons of warmth exploded from the employees of this famed eatery as we entered. "Ah, Mr. Shaw, good to see you," the maitre d' said, reaching for his hand. "How are you. Mr. Shaw?"
And the familiar, smiling reply: "Fine, what have I got to be worried about?"
Over our meal a few last questions to him. "Has anything particularly humorous happened as a result of all this?"
"Nothing really hysterical." He grins. "Except when I was in New York, I was waiting for a stoplight on Lexington and I noticed a woman eying me closely. She finally sidled up to me and said, 'Aren't you the man who's being bothered by that lawyer down in New Orleans?' I had to smile; that's one way of putting it -- Department of Understatement. 'Well,' the woman added, 'my family and I saw you on television, we think it's terrible and we're all praying for you.'"
"Has anyone ever done or said anything vicious to you since your arrest?"
"No, I must say they have not," he says without hesitation, then quickly adds, "I must also express my cynicism by saying I'm surprised. Oh, there have been a couple of unpleasant predictions. In the early days of my arrest, Mr. Garrison said to a journalist that I'd never come to trial, I'd commit suicide first. That gave me very little worry -- not the type. And I've heard it said by those who are aware of such things that I wouldn't come to trial because I'd be assassinated." Clay Shaw shrugs and waves it away. "What can you do? If somebody really wants to kill you, seems they have a good chance, witness Lee Harvey Oswald being killed oon television with an entire phalanx of Dallas policemen standing by.
"So, while it's not pleasant to contemplate, since there's nothing one can do outside of taking the reasonable precautions, I just try to put it out of my mind."
"Have you received any mail and, if so, what kind of mail?"
"To date, about three hundred letters have arrived from all over the world. All of them were sympathetic, except for three, which were hostile."
"Did you answer any of them?"
"Yes, I hired a secretary and answered all of them. I figured if people could take the time and effort, the least they deserved was a reply from me."
"Did you answer the hostile ones, too?"
"No, none of the three were signed, as is the way with crank letters, I suppose. Oh, I must tell you about one letter from a retired minister in New Jersey and with it a large photograph of me. He'd gone to the bother of contacting one of the wire services and he'd bought this photograph for five dollars. At the end of the letter he asked if I'd please autograph it and send it back to him. He said he was going to hang it in his study next to a picture of Captain Dreyfus."
When we said our goodbyes, I wished Clay Shaw well, and then Tony, refusing to flip the flag, drove off toward the airport. "I sure hope this thing is over for Mr. Shaw soon," Tonu said. "I worry about him. I wish he'd be more careful, like maybe even hide out for a while until his trial comes up. But he goes right on living the way he always lived. See, if you never done anybody harm, you don't expect anyone to do you harm. But they're out to convict Mr. Shaw. I tell you, he's dealing with a dangerous man." Tony glanced over at me. "You know what kills me about Mr. Shaw? He doesn't even run down the guys that are running him down. He's got this great outlook on life." Tony grinned and began to thump the steerign wheel. "He's really hanging on good!"
As the plane circled New Orleans, gaining altitude, I looked back down at the city with the Mississippi curling around it like a giant python and realized that Clay Shaw is hanging on down there in his own quietly tenacious way. There's no doubt that the District Attorney has dedicated himself to getting a conviction but the scapegoat is being stubbornly resistant about playing the villainous part assigned him. And trying to assemble the tenuous evidence and make it stick is about like trying to stuff twelve pounds of Jell-O into a ten-pound bag. But watch out -- Mr. Garrison is determined to pull off this stunt. Hang on, Mr. Shaw!
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